Castleford Tigers are a marked team in 2018; the way they cast aside Super League rivals throughout the season - before slipping at the final hurdle in October's Grand Final - has made them the No.1 side to beat this year. This, compounded by the rather bitter mood surrounding the Castleford club regarding the issue of Zak Hardaker - a mood which came into being ever since the full-back was dropped for the Tigers' most important match in their top-flight history - and the Tigers were perhaps always likely to get off to a sluggish start in 2018.

But, sluggish would not exactly describe the Tigers' opening round defeat at St Helens - embarrassing would be more apt and with this hammering, the Rugby League fraternity and many Castleford fans - which, I admit, included me - believed the Tigers would be way off in 2018.

A less than impressive victory over Widnes in round two did little to shake the nervousness in the air at Wheldon Road before a much improved display against Hull FC finally put a smile back on the faces of the long-suffering Castleford faithful. With this 28-18 victory, a belief of "we're back" is slowly seeping through the previously abject fanbase.


A Castleford victory barely seemed possible as the visitors raced into a 0-8 lead midway through the first-half. But, with Greg Minikin's superb finish and Jake Webster's arrowing run through the heart of the FC defence, the Tigers went into the sheds at half-time 10-8 up. Two quick-fire tries after the break from Mike McMeeken and skipper Michael Shenton stretched the lead to 22-8.

Although the visitors pulled it back to 22-12 in the 56th minute through winger Bureta Faraimo, another Shenton score effectively killed the game with 16 minutes to go. Prop Mickey Paea brought Hull within ten points once more ten minutes from the end, but the Tigers' defence held firm.

Many positives

The Tigers would be hard-pressed to find many positives from their opening two games, but this victory would have done much to quell the fans' fears about the season ahead.

Castleford could have capitulated after going 0-8 down as they did against Saints in round one, but, they clawed their way back into the game and turned the screw. The Tigers also coped with the loss of Greg Eden midway through the first-half - taken off with a hamstring injury - which meant Shenton moved to the wing and debutant Joe Wardle came off the bench to play centre, rather than second-row.

Wardle himself was very impressive in the short time he had on the field - he too was substituted with a recurring hamstring injury - putting himself about in defence and making a few bulldozing runs which left Castleford fans optimistic about his potential at the club. Captain Shenton adapted to the wing position with ease, scoring two tries and taking the Sky Sports' Man of the Match even though he bombed a certain try which would have given him his hat-trick late in the game.

Meanwhile, Jame Ellis - a signing that was criticised by many Tigers fans - played his best game to date in a Castleford shirt, having a hand in three tries and linking up well with fellow half-back Luke Gale, whilst Adam Milner was his usual hard-hitting self.

Though Ben Roberts made several errors at the back, his chiming into the line was a vast improvement on earlier rounds whilst his try-saving tackle on Bureta Faraimo and his saving of a 40/20 were moments to be proud of.

No Castleford fan is getting carried away - it was one win against a Hull side that has just spent two weeks in Australia, although Hull went Down Under under their own steam. But, there were glimpses of 2017 in that performance; Luke Gale controlled the game as he so often did last season and was responsible for a brilliant 40/20 from which the Tigers scored. Grant Millington and Junior Moors were swatting away defenders left, right and centre whilst Mr. Consistent, Alex Foster, became probably the first player in Super League history to start the game at prop and end it at centre.

Work to do

Castleford still have heaps of improvement in them though; their right-hand side defence looked lost at times with Mike McMeeken often finding himself out of position and looking less than enthusiastic in defence. In fact, it took a stern word in his ear from assistant Danny Orr for the towering second-rower to buck his ideas up. Credit to the Londoner though, he improved greatly from that moment on and was especially formidable in the second-half.

Roberts still looks shaky at full-back, but this is going to happen in an unaccustomed position; it will take some time for the Samoan international to get used to the rigours of one of the most demanding roles in the team. The Tigers could still do with a starting prop as well; Alex Foster gets through some incredible work on the field, but he is not a No.8.

Head coach Daryl Powell has James Green and Gadwin Springer - although the latter has been sidelined through injury - twiddling their thumbs in the stands and Mitch Clark impressing at Featherstone, surely common sense would mean a call up to the first-choice 17 for either of these three.

Newly-promoted Hull KR are the Tigers' next opponents on Thursday night and, if all goes to plan, the Tigers could have three wins from four - crisis? What crisis? 2018 was never going to be like 2017 for the Tigers. And, for the first time since late September last year when Castleford defeated St Helens in the nailbiting semi-final play-off, the Tigers' fans have something to smile about. Long may it continue.